The Idaho stop is the common name for a law that allows cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign, and a red light as a stop sign. It first became law in Idaho in 1982, but has not been adopted elsewhere. A limited form of the law called "Stop as Yield", that deals only with stop signs, has expanded to parts of Colorado and been considered in several other states. Advocates argue that current law criminalizes normal cycling behavior, and that the Idaho stop makes cycling easier and safer and places the focus where it should be: on yielding the right-of-way. Opponents think it is less safe because it violates the principles of vehicular cycling and makes cyclists less predictable.
The original Idaho yield law was introduced as Idaho HB 541 during a comprehensive revision of Idaho Traffic laws in 1982. At that time, minor traffic offenses were criminal offenses and there was a desire to downgrade many of these to "civil public offenses" to free up docket time.
Carl Bianchi, then the Administrative Director of the Courts in Idaho, saw an opportunity to attach a modernization of the bicycle law onto the larger revision of the traffic code. He drafted a new bicycle code that would more closely conform with the Uniform Vehicle Code, and included new provisions allowing cyclists to take the lane, or to merge left, when appropriate. Addressing the concerns of the state's magistrates, who were concerned that "technical violations" of traffic control device laws by cyclists were cluttering the court, the draft also contained a provision that allowed cyclists to treat a stop sign as a yield sign—the so-called “rolling stop law.” The new bicycle law passed in 1982, despite objections among some cyclists and law enforcement officers.
In 2006, the law was modified to specify that cyclists must stop on red lights and yield before proceeding straight through the intersection, and before turning left at an intersection. This had been the original intent, but Idaho law enforcement officials wanted it specified. The law originally passed with an education provision, but that was removed in 1988 because "youthful riders quickly adapted to the new system and had more respect for a law that legalized actual riding behavior."
In 2001, Joel Fajans, a physics professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and Melanie Curry, a magazine editor, published an essay entitled "Why Bicyclists Hate Stop Signs" on why rolling stops were better for cyclists and it provided greater interest in the Idaho law.
The first effort to enact the law outside of Idaho was started in Oregon in 2003, when the Idaho law still only applied to stop signs. While it overwhelmingly passed in the House, it never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee. The Oregon effort in turn inspired an investigation of the law by the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2008. That investigation failed to spawn legislation, but it did garner national attention, which led to similar efforts nationwide.
The term "Idaho Stop" came into use as a result of the California effort in 2008. Prior to that it was called "Idaho Style" or "Roll-and-go." "Idaho Stop" was first used by the bicycle blogger Richard Masoner in June 2008 coverage of the San Francisco proposal, but in reference to the "Idaho Stop Law." In August of the same year, the term - now in quotes - first showed up in print in a Christian Science Monitor article by Ben Arnoldy who referred to the "so-called 'Idaho stop' rule." Soon after the term "Idaho stop" was commonly being used as a noun, not a modifier.
Advocates for Idaho stop laws argue that they improve safety. Two studies of the Idaho stop show that it is measurably safer. One study showed that it resulted in 14% fewer crashes and another indicated that Idaho has less severe crashes. Similarly, tests of a modified form of the Idaho Stop in Paris "found that allowing the cyclists to move more freely cut down the chances of collisions with cars, including accidents involving the car's blind spot." And, less definitively, a study of rolling stops in Seattle determined that "these results support the theoretical assertion that bicyclists are capable of making safe decisions regarding rolling stop." Some supporters maintain that changing the legal duties of cyclists provides direction to law enforcement to focus attention where it belongs—on unsafe cyclists (and motorists). Additionally, some claim that, because bicycle laws should be designed to allow cyclists to travel swiftly and easily, the Idaho stop provision allows for the conservation of energy.
Opponents of the law maintain that a uniform, unambiguous set of laws that apply to all road users is easier for children to understand and allowing cyclists to behave by a separate set of rules than drivers makes them less predictable and thus, less safe. Jack Gillette, former president of the Boise Bicycle Commuters Association, argued that bicyclists should not have greater freedoms than drivers. “Bicyclists want the same rights as drivers, and maybe they should have the same duties,” he said. San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee argued that the law "directly endangers pedestrians and cyclists" in his veto of a similar law in his city.
Examples and legislative history
Idaho is both the largest and longest practitioner of the safe stop. Mark McNeese, Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator for the Idaho Transportation Department says that "Idaho bicycle-collision statistics confirm that the Idaho law has resulted in no discernible increase in injuries or fatalities to bicyclists."
In 2012, a decree in Paris allowed cyclists in that city to turn right or, if there is no street to the right, proceed straight ahead on red, under the condition that they “exercise caution” and yield to pedestrians, after road safety experts deemed the measure would cut road accidents. During the summer of 2015, Paris law was modified to allow cyclists to treat certain stop lights as yield signs as allowed by signage. The change only applied to right turns or going straight at a T-junction.
In parts of Colorado, the stop-as-yield law is in place. In 2011, the cities of Dillon and Breckenridge, Colorado, passed stop-as-yield laws, in 2012 Summit County passed a similar law for its unincorporated areas, and in 2014, the City of Aspen passed one as well. Fort Collins considered the same law in 2013, but declined.
Many states have laws allowing cyclists to proceed through a red light if the light doesn't change due to the inability of the embedded sensors in the ground to detect them. Such laws often require that the cyclist confirm that there is no oncoming traffic and that they wait some amount of time or cycles of the light.
Lawmakers in many states and cities have attempted to pass similar laws.
- In 2003, HB 2768, which would have allowed cyclists to treat stop signs and flashing red signals as yield signs, passed in the Oregon House by a vote of 46-9, but it never made it out of a Senate Rules Committee. The bill had the support of several bicycle coalitions, but opposition came from local law enforcement and the Department of Transportation.
- In 2008, San Francisco's Metropolitan Transportation Commission's bicycle advisory committee held a hearing on a "stop as yield" proposal with the possibility of recommending that the MTC staff further investigate the idea and bring it before the agency's governing board, so that they could propose state legislation to change the California vehicle code.
- Minnesota legislators introduced a bill similar to Idaho's in 2008, but it never made it out of committee. The same bill was introduced in 2009 and met the same fate.
- In 2009 an Idaho Stop bill was introduced in Oregon, but a lack of support, because many legislators cited constituent opposition to giving cyclists what they viewed as special right, led a key legislator to refuse to schedule a work session on it and it died in committee.
- A stop-as-yield bill died in committee in Arizona in 2009.
- In 2009 in Montana a stop-as-yield bill was opposed by the insurance industry and the Montana Highway Patrol and was voted down in committee.
- In 2010, a stop-as yield bill in Utah passed in the House and the Senate transportation committee but failed to pass on the Senate floor by one vote in an 11-11-7 vote.
- In 2011 a Utah stop-as yield bill again died in the Senate on a tie vote after passing the House That same year a similar bill in Arizona again never made it out of committee.
- In 2011, an Oregon Idaho stop bill was never voted on in committee and failed upon adjournment,
- In 2011, an Arizona stop-as-yield bill was again proposed but never voted on.
- In 2012, the Arizona stop-as-yield bill finally made it out of one house committee, only to fail in another.
- In August, 2015, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos announced plans to introduce an ordinance that would set a “San Francisco Right-of-Way Policy” that would make citations for bicyclists who safely yield at stop signs the lowest law enforcement priority. Running a stop sign would still be illegal, but the police would be discouraged from enforcing it, making this a proxy for a stop-as-yield law. The bill was passed in an initial vote by the Board of Supervisors on December 16, 2015. However, on January 20, 2016, the Mayor vetoed the bill.
- In September 2015, Washington, DC Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced the "Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Act of 2015," which included an Idaho Stop provision. When the bill came out of committee in June 2016, the Idaho Stop provision had been removed.
- In November 2015 New York City Councilman Antonio Reynoso introduced a bill for a resolution asking the state Legislature and Gov. Cuomo for a statewide law that would allow bicyclists to treat stop signs and red lights as yield signs.
- In January 2016 Santa Fe, NM Councilmember Patti Bushee proposed an amendment to the city's uniform traffic ordinance that would allow bicyclists to proceed through a stop sign with caution if the intersection is clear.
- In January 2016 Oklahoma State Senator David Holt and State Representative Lewis Moore introduced HB 2999 which is an Idaho Stop bill. On February 18th of that year, it passed the House's Public Safety Committee.
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